The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1991-1992)
The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.
I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.
This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.
Diane Ladd, Rambling Rose
Juliette Lewis, Cape Fear
Kate Nelligan, The Prince of Tides
Mercedes Ruehl, The Fisher King
Jessica Tandy, Fried Green Tomatoes
Rambling Rose is a film that I imagine no one really remembers. But it’s definitely interesting in terms of film trivia. Laura Dern and Diane Ladd, mother and daughter, were both nominated for Oscars for it.
A boy returns to his childhood home and remembers his childhood. Laura Dern, a free-spirited woman, came to live with the family as a housekeeper when he was a kid, and he fell in love with her. And she turns the family upside down. It’s not malicious, but she develops a crush on the father, and the son develops a crush on her, and she and the mother become friends. And she also sleeps with a bunch of men because that’s the only way she knows how to show affection. It’s one of those films that would have for sure won Best Actress in the 50s. Which makes sense that it came out here, because the early 90s was the era for 50s nostalgia films.
Dianne Ladd plays the mother of the family, who immediately takes a liking to Dern and remains oblivious to everything that’s going on throughout the film. Every time her husband tries to tell her that Dern is coming onto him and is trying to sleep with him, she ignores him and says that’s not possible. It’s kind of a comic character. She’s amusing. Not someone I think you’d take, but definitely a solid nominee. It’s more of a quiet performance, but she adds a lot to the film.
Cape Fear is a Martin Scorsese remake of the 1962 film. De Niro instead of Robert Mitchum, Nick Nolte instead of Gregory Peck. And Peck and Mitchum giving cameos for good measure. The fun part about the cameos is, in this version, Peck is a “bad” guy and Mitchum is a “good” guy. And you have Martin Balsam as well.
Anyway, this is an iconic story: Max Cady, criminal, is released from prison and terrorizes the lawyer who put him away. This version has the movie theater scene where Cady is smoking and laughing too loud, which the other version doesn’t have. As well as some other stuff, mainly involving…
Juliette Lewis plays Nolte’s daughter. She’s in her rebellious teenage phase, so the film uses that to add some sexual tension between her and Cady. He gets to approach her and sort of seduce her in school. But for the most part she’s just okay in the role. She comes off as kind of annoying, but I guess that’s the role. I don’t know. She’s fine, but I’m not overly in love with the performance. In this category she might end up ranked well, but I don’t put her close to a vote unless I have to.
The Prince of Tides is Barbra Streisand. Of the crazy good choices they had this year for Best Picture, we have one of the strongest lists of all time. And this is the outlier. Because no one remembers it.
Nick Nolte is forced to come back to where he grew up because his sister tried to kill himself. He then has to confront childhood issues and the fact that he hates his life as it is. He also falls in love with his sister’s psychiatrist. It’s kind of a mediocre movie.
Kate Nelligan plays the mother, who only really cares about her social status and not her kids. She’s barely in the movie, and I guess a lot of why they nominated her had to do with the fact that she plays two different ages in the movie. She’s younger than Nolte and played the mother in flashback and in the present. Plus, in a movie like this, that has no life whatsoever, she has some energy. So I get the nomination, but no way would I vote for her.
The Fisher King is a Terry Gilliam movie. Which is another way of saying a very strange movie.
Jeff Bridges is a Howard Stern-esque radio host, who says crazy shit on the air and doesn’t care about its consequence, until one day some guy goes nuts and shoots up a diner based on something he said. A bunch of people are killed. He freaks out and has a breakdown and leaves the radio business. Cut to a few years later, he’s dating a woman who runs a video store and is keeping a low profile. One night, he meets Robin Williams, a homeless man who is half-crazy. They strike up a friendship (Bridges also finds out that Williams’ wife was one of the people killed in the diner that day), and Bridges decides to help Williams look for the Holy Grail. And he also helps him find love again as well. It’s a sweet, bizarre, fascinating movie.
Mercedes Ruehl plays Bridges’ girlfriend. And while she doesn’t have a defined arc in the film, and mostly is there to actually support the characters in other scenes, she does stand out. She’s very memorable and does a terrific job with it. Mostly she shows up during the scenes where they’re trying to fix up Williams to look nice so he can go out with Amanda Plummer’s character. Though, while she doesn’t have a real arc (mostly she stands by Bridges, who is a suicidal mess, and wants to marry him, and eventually he fixes himself up enough to actually want to do that), she feels like the most fully realized character in the category and easily blows away the rest of the competition. In a stronger year, she might not be a slam dunk #1, but here, I find it difficult to consider anyone else over her.
Fried Green Tomatoes is another Steel Magnolias kind of women’s film. Much more southern.
Kathy Bates is a housewife who hates her life. She meets Jessica Tandy in a nursing home. Tandy tells her about her life. We flash back to it, and also have scenes with Bates’ marriage in the present. I’d get more into it, but the framing device is all we really need to talk about here. As a film, it’s fine. I don’t love it, but it’s perfectly fine.
Jessica Tandy is the old narrator. She sits in the nursing home, tells a story. She has little to do, and this was clearly a veteran nomination all the way, for someone who’d just won an Oscar two years prior. The only remarkable thing about this performance is the fact that the character doesn’t die at the end of the movie. You’d think that’s how they’d end it, but it’s not. Outside of that, it’s just Jessica Tandy narrating a movie. In a way, this is the exact equivalent of Gloria Stuart in Titanic. Though without the ‘rediscovery’ aspect.
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The Reconsideration: This is barely a category. Tandy is clearly not the vote, and as much as I appreciate the performance and like the film, neither is Juliette Lewis. Nelligan, I understand from an intellectual standpoint, playing multiple ages, is someone you maybe consider, but I don’t think she has enough to do in the movie to really rate for me. And Diane Ladd… ehh. It’s really Ruehl and no one else. She’s the only one who feels like she has a complete character. She steals scenes, she’s memorable. Based on the category as it stands, she’s the only choice.
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- Mercedes Ruehl, The Fisher King
- Juliette Lewis, Cape Fear
- Diane Ladd, Rambling Rose
- Kate Nelligan, The Prince of Tides
- Jessica Tandy, Fried Green Tomatoes
- Cape Fear
- The Fisher King
- Fried Green Tomatoes
- Rambling Rose
- The Prince of Tides
My Vote: Mercedes Ruehl, The Fisher King
Cape Fear is the closest to essential. Just because… Scorsese, De Niro, Cape Fear. It’s a lesser Scorsese, but it’s an awesome film. And while you should see the original Cape Fear over this one, all things considered, why not both?
The Fisher King is an awesome film, and is really entertaining. Can’t call it all-time essential, but it’s definitely one of the cult films of the 90s. A nice, somewhat underrated Terry Gilliam film that I recommend. It’s also very 90s. But the chemistry between Bridges and Williams is what makes the film work.
Fried Green Tomatoes is fine. Not great. Not essential. Is what it is. See it, don’t see it. Up to you.
Rambling Rose is fun. Laura Dern is terrific in it, and overall it’s a decent film. Not something you need to see, but if you’re really into the Oscars or think you’ll enjoy it based on the cast, go for it.
The Prince of Tides is not a particularly great film. I don’t like it all that much. Mostly what I get out of it is seeing George Carlin in a dramatic role. Outside of that, it’s not a film I’m planning on going back to unless I absolutely have to.
The Last Word: It’s Ruehl. Not really anyone else to take here. Some people might want to take Lewis because of her and the film, others may think about Nelligan, but honestly, it’s pretty much just Ruehl here. Without her, this category’s almost unbearable. She’s the choice. They made a good one.
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Judy Davis, Husbands and Wives
Joan Plowright, Enchanted April
Vanessa Redgrave, Howards End
Miranda Richardson, Damage
Marisa Tomei, My Cousin Vinny
Husbands and Wives is Woody Allen. The first time I saw this movie I hated it. Actively hated it. But I did like the performance. So I was due to give it another shot. Just to see if I still hated it.
Update: I like it better, but I don’t love it. I appreciate the performances, but the handheld cameras turned me off (this isn’t a fucking Paul Greengrass film. Stop making me nauseas) and the plot is… it always feels like rationalization for the whole, dumping Mia Farrow for her adopted daughter thing.
Woody loves this movie. Thinks it’s one of his best. I guess because he used handheld cameras and shot it docudrama style. They intersperse testimonials like with reality shows throughout the movie.
It starts with two couples: Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, and Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis. They’re hanging out when Davis and Pollack announce they’re separating. This makes Woody and Mia question their own marriage. And there’s a bunch of relationship shit the happens: Davis and Pollack start seeing other people, and freak out when they find out the other is seeing someone else. Woody starts sleeping with one of his students… I’m not gonna get into it all.
Judy Davis is great in the part. From her first scene, it’s clear that she’s great. And objectively, yes she gives the best performance in the category. Based on performance alone, she wins this. But people don’t always vote based purely on performance. And I’m probably not going to do that either. Call me a sucker, but I’m the sucker that’s in line with how the suckers in the Academy voted.
Enchanted April is about four women in 1920s London who go on holiday to Italy. That’s pretty much the move. Not gonna lie, I found it boring as shit when I watched it.
I’m ashamed to say that I had no idea who Joan Plowright was for the longest time. When she showed up in this movie I went, “Oh I know her. She was in Dennis the Menace!” This was before I figured out she was Laurence Olivier’s wife and all that. Still alive, by the way. As of the publishing of this.
Plowright plays the requisite stuffy old lady part, whose hard outside is slowly peeled away to reveal a damaged inside as she bonds with the other ladies. She gets a big scene right at the end, but otherwise plays a character you’ve seen before. It’s not that she isn’t entertaining, it’s just… you know this is a veteran nomination for her putting in years of work. That’s all this is. Fourth, maybe, at best? Definitely not something to vote for in this category.
Howards End is your big, classy Merchant Ivory movie of this year. Lots of nominations, great praise, and utterly boring for many people.
Emma Thompson is from a middle class family who befriends the matriarch of an upper class family. She’s old and dying and all her kids are assholes. Emma Thompson is the only person who appreciates her for who she is. So when she dies, she leaves her house, (insert title here), to Thompson and not her kids. And her kids are like, “Fuck that shit,” and burn the piece of paper that says she left the house to Thompson and basically swindle her out of it. But it’s cool, since Anthony Hopkins is one of the kids, and he’s actually gonna fall in love with her, and end up living with her at the house anyway. It’s basically about class, the movie.
Vanessa Redgrave plays the dying matriarch, a role she seems to have been playing for twenty years now. (Foxcatcher, anyone?) She’s fine. Probably would be a fourth choice most years. Maybe ends up third this year on performance alone because Vanessa Redgrave is awesome. I think the performance is a bit belabored, but overall solid. Still wouldn’t take her over the major two choices in the category.
Damage is a bit of a noir. Or maybe more appropriately one of those sexual thrillers that were popular in the 87-92 range. This was the classier Basic Instinct. No beaver shots.
Jeremy Irons is a Parliament member who starts an affair with Juliette Binoche. Who is also dating his son. He becomes infatuated with her, continues the affair despite the relationship with his son, and we basically watch as it ruins his and pretty much everyone else’s life around him.
Miranda Richardson (Rita Skeeter for you under 25-ers) plays Irons’ wife. She gets to be the oblivious wife for much of the movie, and then she gets one big scene after the affair comes out (after their son has died). And she gets to scream at him and say, “Why couldn’t you kill yourself like any decent shamed public figure?” and scream for how much she wants her son back. She’s fine. In the one scene.
I think the reason she’s here is because she was also in The Crying Game and Enchanted April this year. This was the “sexiest” of the three performances (though she won a Globe for lead for Enchanted April and was double nominated for this and The Crying Game at the BAFTAs. She did win for this there, though), and I kind of understand it when you factor it all in. But no. Not gonna vote for this at all. She’ll get respect for the three solid performances, but with this one as the figurehead, I’m not taking it. At best third, but that’s only due to the weak category and nothing more.
My Cousin Vinny is a perfect comedy. It is.
Two college students are driving to campus through Alabama, and are arrested for the murder of a convenience store clerk at the store they were at a little while earlier. They know they didn’t do it, but it sure seems like they did, based on all the evidence. One of the kids says, “Don’t worry about it, I’ve got a lawyer in the family. (Insert title here).” So here comes Joe Pesci with his girlfriend Marisa Tomei down to Alabama. They don’t fit in. Plus Pesci just got his law license after five failed attempts to pass the bar. This is his first case. If he loses it, his cousin and his friend get executed. Stakes are high. Fortunately, hilarity ensues.
Marisa Tomei is Pesci’s girlfriend. She’s amazing in this movie. You can’t say she isn’t. You can claim she shouldn’t have won the Oscar. Fair enough. But there’s no denying that she’s great in this movie. I can think of at least four or five scenes where she’s terrific. The scene in the courtroom at the end is completely worth a vote. That said, I totally get someone wanting to take Judy Davis over her (because let’s face it, if it’s not Tomei, it’s Davis. The rest of this category is awful).
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The Reconsideration: This is one of the most boring categories in the history of Best Supporting Actress. People like to go back and ask, “How in the hell did Marisa Tomei win the Oscar?” Look at the category. That’s how.
Joan Plowright is a veteran nomination, through and through. No way. Vanessa Redgrave had one of these, and she’s good, but I wouldn’t take her either. Miranda Richardson, while I liked the performance less than Redgrave’s, did have three solid parts this year and that must be taken into consideration. Still… not gonna beat the other two in my mind.
It’s Davis, and it’s Tomei. Davis by far had the best performance and when you see what she did there’s no question that she’s tops in the category. But you know what? I don’t care. I love the Tomei performance and I thought she was hysterical and authentic. I’m voting for her. Sure, I’m an idiot, but that’s fine. I vote what I like, and I like this performance. You vote how you want. At least I’m acknowledging the performance is second best and taking it.
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- Judy Davis, Husbands and Wives
- Marisa Tomei, My Cousin Vinny
- Vanessa Redgrave, Howards End
- Miranda Richardson, Damage
- Joan Plowright, Enchanted April
- My Cousin Vinny
- Howards End
- Husbands and Wives
- Enchanted April
My Vote: Marisa Tomei, My Cousin Vinny
My Cousin Vinny is an essential film. An all-time great comedy. I don’t see how anyone couldn’t love this movie. It’s perfect.
Howards End is essential for Oscar buffs. The Thompson win. Otherwise, Merchant Ivory. If you’re into it, go for it, otherwise you can skip it. It’s fine. It’s a perfectly acceptable Merchant Ivory movie. Compared to the entire slate, it’s definitely one I would recommend over most of them. So there is that. Otherwise, if you just like movies but find these boring and aren’t super into the Oscars, you probably don’t need to see this. But it’s fine.
Husbands and Wives is probably essential Woody Allen. Outside of that, no need to really see it. It’s fine. Don’t love it. So I’ll leave it at that. Worth seeing to discuss this category as well.
Damage — ehh. 90s sex thriller. Just watch Basic Instinct. Unless you’re really into the genre or want to see a Leslie Caron cameo, there’s not much I loved here. It’s fine. But not only is it not essential, I would go so far as to say it’s actually kind of a forgotten movie.
Enchanted April is kinda boring. Some might like it, I didn’t. Not essential, and not really something for me to recommend. This is one where you’re better off seeing if you think you’re gonna like it and no.
The Last Word: Davis was the best performance and is objectively the vote. But Tomei wins on likability and style points. I take Tomei, along with a lot of people (as evidenced by the win), even though she didn’t give the best performance in the category. That courtroom scene, I mean… I’m gonna take her every time. But yeah, Davis gave the best performance, and she and Tomei were both good choices. The other three are just filler.
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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)